Perhaps a good fifteen or twenty feet across, James’ platform was just one of many such little outcrops throughout the cave, albeit one of the few ones large enough to live on. The light from his fire let him see maybe two or three others but they were more like stalagmite than platforms, really.
He didn’t mind though. Life on the platform was more comfortable than you’d expect, albeit very lonely. James didn’t think he’d ever seen another person, or if he had he certainly couldn’t remember. Every day it was just him on his platform with his tiny hut and his fire and the silent, echoing sounds of absolutely nothing else. He was pretty used to it.
After gathering cave wood (which sprouted from just under the lip of the platform and was only moderately perilous to collect), getting his fire going and seeing to the essentials of life James would – without fail – settle down to write something. What he wrote varied, though he tried for narrative consistency in his story about an adventurous cave vole.
Sometimes he just didn’t feel like doing that one though, which was okay. Whatever he did he popped down onto cave-parchment, rolled up, slipped into his bottle and sent off into the cave dangling beneath the heavily repaired lantern he had for just such a purpose. He would sit and watch the little light of the lantern growing smaller and smaller as it drifted off into the cave before finally turning that far corning and winking out from sight. It’d be back.
Many years ago when James had been a younger man, he had once woken up to find the bottle on his platform. This had been a first for James, and he had been understandably surprised – so surprised he didn’t notice the sad, deflated remains of the lantern the bottle had ridden to get there until afterwards.
Inside the bottle had been a poem. He hadn’t even liked it that much if he was honest, though it had helped him get the fire going that one time. More, it was what the poem represented that hooked his interest. Someone else was out there! Someone else sitting in a cave James had always thought he was the sole occupant of. What was more, this meant there was a definite means of reaching them!
A quirk of the airflow within the cave – which was well-known to James – was a particular stream of air that ran more-or-less in a complete circuit around the known interior of the cave. Or at least that was what James thought. Given the darkness it was hard to tell, but his few experiments with it had seen a crude craft of his own design float off into the gloom and return the next day none the worse for wear. The lantern, he imagined, would fly much better. It did.
No-one ever replied. Whoever had sent the poem in the first place – and anyone else who might have happened to be in the way – apparently didn’t feel the need.
James knew they were getting them, too. The bottles always came back but they always came back empty, and there was no-way the parchment could just fall out. The first time this happened he imagined that their response would be forthcoming in another bottle. Perhaps they needed some time to write it but thought James still needed his bottle. How considerate of them, James thought.
But they had never sent anything. Some time later, he finally cracked and wrote something else. Eventually James stopped waiting and just wrote something every time the bottle came back. It kept getting opened and it kept getting emptied, and James continued to sit on his platform alone and in silence.
Maybe his messages weren’t good enough. This idea popped out of nowhere one day and stopped James in his tracks. Objectively, living without any real constructive feedback, James had no way of knowing how good or not what he was doing might have been. But now the idea was in his head. He quickly became convinced that it must have been pretty bad – why else wouldn’t they reply?
Not having a single clue what was expected of him, James tried much harder. Of course, he had no idea what this meant, so in practical terms he just ended up losing weight from worrying about his performance – which dipped. The bottles kept leaving and kept coming back empty, and James’ desperation grew as his frame shrank.
Maybe they didn’t like the vole. James could understand that. Now that he looked back over what he’d done, he could admit the vole was stupid. He could see why they’d ignored it. He’d have ignored it too. It was stupid. Boring. How had he not realised that before? He’d do much better.
Or at least he’d try. He thought he’d tried, but they still hadn’t replied. Maybe he was getting worse? He asked the cave but the cave said nothing. He was pretty sure he was getting worse. It didn’t help that his trousers kept falling down. They used to fit him quite well, now not so much. He made a belt but it stopped working after a while.
With his hands shaking so much it was hard to write. His fires weren’t as bright anymore either since he was getting so difficult to gather wood for it, and it didn’t help that he was just so tired all the time these days. Some days he couldn’t even gather enough energy to write. Not that it mattered. No-one ever replied. He doubted they even noticed, whoever they were, wherever they were.
One day, lying curled up by his dying fire in an effort to ward off the cold he always felt these days, James caught a flicker of something moving in the corner of his eye. With supreme effort he pushed himself up onto his elbow and peered up. His heart practically burst when he saw another, new bottle drifting towards his platform.
Dragging himself on his belly across the platform he frantically swiped at the bottle, catching it out of the air. Rolling onto his back he struggled with trembling fingers to open it and, after much effort, managed it. The cork rolled off the edge and fell away out of sight, but James didn’t care. Up-ending the bottle he held it with both hands and gave it a shake, watching the rolled parchment sliding its way out before plopping onto his chest. He unfurled it.
It was another poem. It made no mention of James’ vole, their opinions on James’ vole, their opinions on anything else he’d ever done or indeed any sign they were aware of him at all even though they clearly must have been. They’d been opening his bottles. He knew they had. James read it twice to be sure, then a third time, then a fourth through tears.
Maybe he just wasn’t good enough yet.
Letting the empty bottle follow the cork off the side of the platform James pulled himself over to his hut and fumbled around inside for fresh parchment and his old bottle to put it in. Sniffling, his writing barely legible, he forced himself to start something new.
He’d try harder. He had to try harder.
A rambling non-entity bereft of talent.
Ohh, I just love the messages within this story. You can’t write in isolation with confidence and clarity -constructive criticism will help to improve your writing, if you let it – and the stress that writers can go through when they worry about whether they’re “good enough”! Check out more fantastic stories and follow Krazmaz here: https://krazmaz.wordpress.com/